This is a big week for Ozzie Vazquez, the young whiz kid and Chinatown resident who hit the books hard in both Mexico and Los Angeles. He is packing for college.
“I leave Thursday,” said Ozzie, whose many years of hard work got him into Harvard. “It’s going to be tough to leave family behind, but yeah, I’m excited.”
In Torrance, meanwhile, construction worker Fidel Lopez, an immigrant from Guatemala, is keeping to his usual schedule, even though he’s now 73. When I called Monday morning, his wife, Coralia, told me Fidel was at an apartment building where he was working as a fix-it guy.
I wrote about Lopez in 2012, on the 20th anniversary of the riots that followed the verdict in the Rodney King beating. Lopez was in the worst place at the worst time, in South L.A. on the way home from work, when he was dragged out of his truck and savagely beaten.
You may recall the horrifying video. Fidel was kicked, doused with gasoline and smashed in the head with a stereo. His tools were stolen and his truck set ablaze. A minister, Bennie Newton, saved his life when he rushed to Fidel’s attackers and told them, “Kill him, and you have to kill me, too.”
Fidel’s recovery from serious injuries took years. He’s slowed down a bit lately, said Coralia, but there are still bills to pay, and he refuses to admit he’s lost a step.
“He’s not the same,” said Coralia, “but I see the typical macho man saying, ‘No, I’m OK.’”
Speaking of that mentality, Ray the gardener is still on the job almost 14 years after being rushed to the emergency room at UCLA. He’d been landscaping a yard in Inglewood when approached by someone demanding money. Ray resisted and got shot.
Doctors couldn’t remove the bullet from Ray’s chest because of its location. They wanted him to stay in the hospital for observation, but Ray insisted on leaving and returning to work. It was Dec. 23, 2005, the landscaping job was a surprise present, and Ray, who came to the U.S. from Mexico, had promised his client he would be done before Christmas.
“I’m on my lunch break,” Ray told me Tuesday afternoon from Manhattan Beach, where he was finishing up a gardening job. He said he still has the bullet in his chest, but feels fine, and business is good.
By STEVE LOPEZ for LOS ANGELES TIMES
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